In 2010 I moved from Oklahoma to New York.
In the following 3 years we didn’t talk much.
In 2013, I needed photos of Oklahoma.
Photography, 1000 miles away
I called my parents and asked if they were interesting in shooting some photos under my direction.
Being not very technically inclined they were hesitant, but eventually agreed.
L: When you turn it do you see the numbers change on the screen?
D: Julie I need my glasses. Yeah 100, 125, 160, 200...
L: Yeah yeah yeah... Now when your holding....
D: Now is that the ISO?
L: No, thats the shutter speed.
D: One hundredth of a second?
L: Yeah thats one one hundredth of a second. and if you look about where your thumb is on the back there should be another wheel.
L: Thats going to change your aperture.
D: So do I need to turn on my screen?
L: No you don't need anything on your screen.
D: I don't?
L: No, everything you're going to be doing is on that little LCD screen on the top or through the viewfinder.
L: So you are going to have a meter reading and everything show up inside your viewfinder that will tell you the correct exposure. Do you see it? It's a little scale that has a little negative two negative one and then a little point and then a one and two? do you see that?
L: Is your camera on?
First Project: Every Church in Ardmore Oklahoma.
To get my dad comfortable with the camera, I had him photograph all the churches in my home town. A momentous task in the tightly packed bible belt.
The Gas Station
This project was one of the first major task I gave my father.
It was a highly coordinated operation requiring coordination from all three of us, the use of many different new technologies, like google maps, and several reshoots.
D: What’s up?
L: Okay, yeah... I just needed to talk to you about a couple of things. Let me get this out...
D: Those night pictures didn't come out?
L: No, not really. Umm... What I want you to do is... Well we can start out with that... So... Lets see... Okay first of all the composition is off. Let me see if I can pull this up
D: Well, I went to were you told me to go.
L: Yeah... I just didn't realize how far away it was. So umm... Why is this program... Umm... (Scrolling and clicking in background)
L:So essentially we have too much empty space in the image.
D: So we are too far away?
L: Yeah. So what I want you to do is move more in front of the building, so you are looking more straight on to the building, not completely straight on but more straight on. And I want you to shoot so that the sign, the top of the sign, is hitting the top of the image and the bottom, where it meets the ground, is the bottom of the image. And maybe a little bit of road.
D: Lucus, that sign is of to the right
L: Yeah I realize that.
D: I don't think you’ll be able to get that sign. I can't be in front of the building and get that sign in the photo. I need to get off to the left. If you look at the building.
L: It’s to the right.
D: Yeah it’s to the right, which means I need to go to the left.
L: Yeah you need to go to the left but not nearly as far as you were. Because you’re...
D: Well I did two different images. I did one straight across and I did one on the same side of the road. The only way I can do that is to be in the middle of the road. I did two sets of pictures. I did one from the side.
D: And then I did one catty cornered in the parking lot of the barbershop.
L: Okay I'm looking at it now on Google earth. Let me see if I can... Can you guys see that?
D: That's from Google? Wow.
M: Yeah that’s from the street from a car?
L: That’s the composition I more or less want you to have.
D: Ohh... Okay.
L: So um...
J: But in the evening.
L: Yeah so... You’re going to see the name of the building. You’re going to get... now it fills up the frame pretty nicely. Now you’re going to be across the street, or actually you may be able to get on the same side of the street. I don't know how wide that camera can go. But you may be able to get on that same side of the street.
D: On the corner of the filling station?
L: Yeah on the corner of the filling station. So I wanted you to do that... and yeah work on that. I don't actually think you need to take that one with your camera mom... Uh... I do want a lot more images from around the house.
J: Okay I have some on my camera to upload.
Giving My Mom a Mission:
For the first part of the project, I was mostly focusing on my dad as he was the more technically minded out of the two and I thought he was the best choice to take the kind of photos I wanted.
But in order to better direct my father on the images he was to take, I had my mom take "notes." These notes were wide photos that captured in a very flat way the world they lived in.
I then used these notes to better direct my father on the images he was to take.
L: Yeah umm... do some pictures of...
M: I thought you would like that.
L: of the workshop and everything.
M: Umm... I can take pictures of it.
L: Well yeah, that's what I was saying. Take some pictures of the work shop and more of the back yard and what not. Just... more
L: Well I got to go thought.
M: okay. Well...
M: hey. What's up?
L: So, I got the images you send yesterday.
L: I Like them, I just want you to do more of them and I want you...
L: to get further away. Like just get... Like really straight forward. Up close... I mean not up close. Just really straight forward
M: far away.
L: Yeah. And wide angled.
M: Did you see the picture... Hu?
L: Yeah of the cats?
Final Image captured by Dad
It soon became Clear that she had a lot more to offer to the project.
I started assigning her projects. But unlike my dad where I gave him very ridged guidelines, I gave my mom loose ideas to focus on and let her create the photos she wanted to create.
I told her to photograph what she did that day, who she spoke with, what she had for lunch.
Learning To Communicate
Over the next several Months We spend a combined time of 15 hrs and 37 minutes on the phone.
An amount of time that far exceed the combined dialogue spoken over the previous 3 years.
While not conventional, I believe we were able to make a unique connection that we have never experienced before.
L: Umm... can you go to the Google drive and I created a folder in there... what is it... its called ray's a laugh.
J: Its... okay, I see it.
L: Okay, so I think I already showed you some of these images, I just wanted to talk to you a little more about them. This is from a... its a book that I got these images from called "Ray's a Laugh" and its by a photographer called... umm... named Richard Bellingham.
L: And the project he did I find very similar to the project that I'm trying to get you to accomplish. Granted his photos are of a very different subject matter. Its about... He's... He's photographing his parents and his... His dad is an alcoholic. His dad is named Ray. SO the book is about his dad. And umm... part of the project that I think is so stunning is, first of all his aesthetics that he uses. He uses something that... umm... similar to your aesthetic. The technical term is snapshot aesthetic. Umm..
L: And there is an emphasis on composition, but not an emphasis on normal technical issues such as image quality, sharpness, focus, lighting, stuff like that. It’s just a very stark on camera flash. But he does focus a lot on the composition themselves. If you look through the photos I sent you, they are all compositions that are very powerful. Very.. You know? He uses the space very well. And it reminds me a lot of the compositions you created. And I just wanted to umm... send it to you so that you can see these compositions and also... the way in which he photographed them. These people
L: And... One other aspect of this project that he did that I found interesting is that he shows an entire gamut of his parents. HE shows... it’s his parents and his brother actually. He showed the good stuff and the bad stuff. He shows them fighting and he also shows them in a tender embrace. And..
L: And right now with the...
J: And the cat flying through the air.
L: Yeah, that's probably my favorite out of all of them.
L: Oh hold on one second. (Long wait) Are you there?
L: Hold on... Let me call you back in a little bit, can I?
L: All right I'll call you back in like fifteen minutes or so.
J: How’s it going?
J: SO you got the camera
L: It came
J: The package you sent me also came today.
L: Oh perfect.
L: So... Have you used the camera yet? Have you turned it on or anything?
J: Yeah. I put batteries in it and I took the SD card out of my camera and put it in there.
L: Does it turn it on?
L: Oh okay. I actually haven't even had a chance to use it. I don't know anything about the picture quality or anything like that. So if you don't mind could you just snap a few photos tonight and upload them so I can get an idea of what they look like.
L: And like I said, just use auto with flash. That's all I need.. NO fancy manual mode for you
L: You probably won't need it.
J: Okay. I can do that.
J: And I will upload them
J: Oh, did you get the last batch of pictures.
L: Yeah, I did actually. And if you have some time right now I would like to talk about them. Maybe for just a little it. Like two or three.
L: Okay, I'm really liking the direction you're going. Technically speaking, the composition wise they're starting to become really interesting. Umm... definitely a lot better than what I'm use to from you growing up. you know? cut off heads and stuff like that.
L: Defiantly uhh... Definitely getting the composition down really well. One thing I wanted to talk to you about is... Are you at a computer right now?
My parents and I continued to work together and refined our methods. Each created amazing photos and we all shared in the learning experience.
The following selection of photos represents just a few of the nearly five thousand images we exchanged.